Published: Feb. 25, 2021 By ,

Re-Watch Christine Darden's webinar

It was part seminar on supersonic flight and part discussion of life at NASA during the space race. Christine Darden shared her story to University of Colorado Boulder students during a special event Feb. 23, 2021, held as part of a series of Black History Month celebrations.

Over 200 people attended the webinar, hosted by The BOLD Center and the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences. It featured Darden, who was one of many women who worked as “human computers” at NASA’s Langley Research Center in the 1960s, performing calculations that enabled the Apollo spaceflight missions.

Darden discussed how she achieved her dream career, going from the computer office to leading scientific research at the space agency. She calls it the “Four P’s”:

  • P1: Perceive of yourself in career.
  • P2: Plan what you need to get there.
  • P3: Prepare – work your plan!
  • P4: Persist – keep going – don’t stop.

When Darden started at NASA, men and women generally worked in separate divisions. The women performed computations and men served in engineering. Darden was intrigued by the high speed aerodynamics engineering office, but initially believed it was open only to people with engineering degrees. Her BS and MS were in math.

When she learned there were numerous men there with similar academic backgrounds, she spoke with colleagues about transferring, but did not have luck. She kept pushing and met with the director of the division.

“I could’ve gotten fired. If I hadn’t thought about the 4 Ps, I might have quit and gone to teach somewhere,” Darden said.

Instead, she was promoted.

Darden eventually served as the deputy program manager of the TU-144 Experiments Program – an element of NASA's High Speed Research Program. In 1999, she was appointed as the director in the Program Management Office of the Aerospace Performing Center where she was responsible for Langley research in air traffic management and other aeronautics programs managed at other NASA Centers.

Darden also served as technical consultant on numerous government and private projects, and is the author of more than 50 publications in the field of high lift wing design in supersonic flow, flap design, sonic boom prediction, and sonic boom minimization.

During the webinar, she discussed her computational and experimental work on sonic boom mitigation through aircraft design. Although Darden is now retired, she said she is excited to see Lockheed Martin’s development of a low boom supersonic X-Plane, which builds on her long research.

“A lot of the things that NASA works on, unfortunately, do take a long time to get it done,” Darden said. “What we’re hearing is that it’s more like a thump, nothing like the rifle crack or the sharp crack of thunder that we are used to hearing with sonic booms. They are predicting that they will have it finished in 2021, this year.”